San Francisco’s Mikal Cronin is an artist who revels in defying expectations. Through his work playing in long time ally Ty Segall’s band, as well as his self-titled 2011 debut, Cronin has been pegged in some quarters as a mere fuzz rock garage revivalist. MCII is a far more nuanced and developed follow up that sees the multi-instrumentalist broadening his sound while retaining an irresistible power pop quality.
MCII is essentially an album of acoustic based songs that run through all the myriad conflictions that have defined the album’s conception. The questioning of the album’s first single, the peerless pop rush of Shout It Out, is indicative of Cronin’s dilemma of whether to unabashedly rock out or wallow in languorous self doubt: “Do I shout it out? Do I let it go? Do I even know what I’m waiting for? No, I want it now. Do I need it, though?” Fortunately, throughout the 10 songs collected here Cronin expertly combines his noise rock tendencies with a new found love of piano balladry and heartfelt expression on an album that is full of ultra-melodic and affecting pop songs.
New instrumentation and approaches are key to the record’s success. Every instrument, bar some contributions by some notable guests, is played by the supremely talented Cronin. Of course, the guitar playing – as he switches from surf rock lilt to full on fuzz peddle shredding back to ornate acoustic finger picking – is impeccable, but it’s the new musical flourishes that really catch the eye. The piano is a prominent instrument; brilliantly woozy bar room piano enlivens the rollicking stomp of Am I Wrong, and is again starkly employed, though in more reflective fashion, on the genuinely touching lament of Piano Mantra. Here, Cronin creates a sense of gentle grandeur as swelling strings combine with dissonant guitar over a heartfelt lyric proclaiming: “Open arms are giving me hope.”
Elsewhere, viola and violin provided by K Dylan Edrich give songs like Peace Of Mind a wonderful country folk vibe. Violin also provides the backdrop to the lovely swooning melodies of Turn Away. Despite a greater focus on reflective sounds, there is still a high proportion of frenetic guitar freakouts and powerful scything solos; the effect of these bursts of energy is supremely satisfying. Ty Segall himself adds his instantly recognisable guitar screech to Am I Wrong and the ’60s pop stomp of I’m Done Running With You. Further guests include Ty Segall band drummer Charles Mootheart on the grungier crunches of Change and Turn Away. Change is perhaps the album’s best example of noise guitar and strings aligning together in its expansive climax.
MCII is an album all about emotions and feelings. It’s perhaps a risk for Cronin to take a partial step away from hazy psychedelic rock in favour of plaintive emoting, but it’s a risk he navigates extremely successfully. His melodic skill shines out on a batch of songs redolent of Bob Mould’s Sugar or Dinosaur Jr’s poppier moments. It’s a record that sees Mikal Cronin finding his way as a songwriter in his own right.